Bullying and Cyber Bullying Lawsuits in Georgia
Fight online harassment and bullying in Marietta and metro-Atlanta
Cyber Safety. Cyber Harassment. Cyber Bullying. These are terms and concepts that just a few years ago were new, but not are mainstream terms in the information age. Yet, even with the attention that cyber bullying has gained in our media, it is painfully clear that it continues to prosper, in a variety of forms, all designed to purposely harm someone else. The Internet has all kinds of wonderful possibilities, and as long as it is used responsibly and safely by society, all is well and good. When it is not used properly, there are legal ramifications that can directly and severely impact children and adults. This law firm will aggressively assist those who are injured or abused by those who try to make cyberspace an unsafe place. "Cyber bullying," also known as electronic bullying or online social cruelty, is defined as bullying through email, through instant messaging, in a chat room, on a website or gaming site, or through digital messages or images sent to a cellular phone. This is the definition of cyber bullying of Robin Kowalski, Ph.D., Susan P. Limber, Ph.D. and Patricia Walton Agatston, Ph.D., co-authors of a book published by Wiley Publishing in November, 2007, titled Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age. The book, which has been translated into multiple languages, is as of April 2012 in its second edition. Wiley Publishing's website is now selling Cyber Bullying: Bullying in the Digital Age, 2nd Edition. It can also be ordered on Amazon, Borders and Waldenbooks. Full disclosure time: The latter author is my wife, a clinical psychologist, who has teamed with two brilliant Clemson University professors to write this ground-breaking book. Aside from learning about cyber bullying and prevention strategies from the experts, there are creative legal solutions that can be explored in the event of extreme cyber bullying that impacts your child. And importantly, these types of cases, when appropriate and when pursued the right way for the right reasons, can not just provide your child's safety, but the safety of all children when the public is aware that the legal system can stand up for those who are so mistreated and harmed.
Bullying prevention & Civil Justice in the Online World
For educators who want to responsibly educate their students on cyber bullying, Hazeldon Publishing has published a cyber bullying prevention curriculum for grades 6-12, written by Drs. Kowalski, Limber and Agatston. In February 2009, a curriculum for grades 3-5 was published. The curriculum provides a real-world program that teaches students how to protect themselves and their friends from cyber bullying. There are interesting and innovative legal avenues to combat this form of bullying as well, as long as the law stays up with the technology. This firm is dedicated to Civil Justice in the Online World, as well as Civil Justice for Traditional Bullying, and seeks creative legal solutions to end the online harassment and bullying of the innocent who look to the Internet to work and play.
New (2013) Andrew H. Agatston, P.C. Legal Iniatiatives to Fight Cyber Bullying!
The law firm of Andrew H. Agatston, P.C. for years has attempted to assist those who are the unfortunate targets of cyber bullying and other forms of online harassment. We know from experience that there are many legal hurdles that make combatting cyber bullying through the legal process difficult, time consuming, and expensive.
However, in January 2013, this firm has established a working relationship with an expert consultant in the child protection and national security field to assist and consult with issues related to online harassment in its myriad forms. The range of services will depend upon a case-by-case analysis. There can be three tiers involved, from a single or series of formal contacts with the wrongdoer; to a second tier that requires a thorough investigation of harm being caused and its source or sources in order to facilitate the best manner to resolve the matter short of litigation; to a third tier that may require a combination of the first two approaches, plus litigation.
Based upon several years of looking into the legal issues and hurdles caused by these unfortunate circumstances, it appears that an orderly, integrated appproach to addressing the cyber bullying issues from a legal perspective is the more positive approach to resolving the matter responsibly.
The State of The Law For Bullying and Cyber Bullying in Georgia
Cyber law is a generic term that originally included law firms who were astute at information technology and Internet law. These firms helped corporations harness the vast power of the Internet in order to advance their technologies that could help company growth. That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about assisting those who are on the receiving end of harms caused by the improper use of the Internet: cyber bullying; cyber slander or cyber defamation; and other forms of cyber harassment. These forms of intimidation can range in their severity levels, but we've seen in recent years that the consequences of the most insidious forms can be extreme. And it is beyond argument today that bullying consequences in general can be extreme. In the past, and certainly today, when parents call me to see whether there is any civil legal remedies for the extreme "traditional" bullying of their child, chances are that some of the following has occurred: (1) The bullying persisted for a period far longer than the parents knew, or could have in their worst nightmares imagined; (2) Their child coped the best he or she could for an extended period of time before telling the parents; (3) Once the parents got wind of the problem, the bullying had escalated to a degree where the child no longer tried to keep the episodes to himself or herself; (4) The child has enormous feelings of humiliation, embarrassment, hurt, self-doubt, and shame; and (5) The parents have equal doses of anger and guilt. This is not an exhaustive list.
Sometimes, the parents have attempted to address the situation with the various school systems, and often the results are unsatisfying, if not unnerving.
It is unfortunate, but I believe it is true: There is an overall shared expectation in our communities, our schools, and among our parents and legislative leaders that bullying is a rite of passage; that bullying is not widespread, but isolated; that bullying only consists of a physical pummeling by that Super-Sized kid down the street. It's also the legal expectation, as seen by how our Georgia courts treat it, and how even in the most egregious cases, courts will not hold the school systems responsible under Georgia law. I'll discuss one component of Georgia law now. Bullying in the public education settings falls under the umbrella of "student safety" as it relates to the roles of our schools, and this umbrella covers other intentional acts of aggression such as batteries or so-called "sex" crimes. Under Georgia law, public school systems enjoy a near bullet-proof sovereign immunity shield from liability on matters of student safety.
Other Legal, and Non-Legal, Approaches to Consider.
That said, the Georgia Legislature, in 2010, amended the bullying statute to add some requirements that local school districts must follow. These requirements relate to publishing in no uncertain terms in student handbooks that bullying is prohibited throughout the school system, and for all grades. Other requirements include that the local school system has to notify students, parents and/or caregivers of the prohibition against bullying, and the potential consequence for bullying in the school. One consequence that must be instituted is that if a student is found to have bullied three times in one school year, that student must be sent to an alternative school. As before these 2010 changes, however, the real onus on preventing bullying is on the students, rather than the teachers or administrators. What I mean is, there is no statutory mechanism under Georgia law to hold a teacher or administrator accountable for student-on-student bullying -- in Georgia law. At the federal level, however, it is different. The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights often puts out "Dear Colleague" letters, telling schools what is expected of them as it relates to the laws that the DOE Office of Civil Rights enforces. Those laws relate to harassment in schools on account of such things as race, and gender, and disability, under several different laws. Therefore, if bullying in a Georgia public school is done on grounds of such things as race, color, national origin, gender, or disability, then a public school district may have legal liability. There is much, much more to this federal litigation, including the fact that the litigation process itself can take years, but in egregious cases (including those cases that have been in the news regarding student suicide), they are viable cases. The importance of having the available information to advocate for your child cannot be overstated. There are set requirements that school systems must follow, thanks to the Georgia bullying statute, the "Dear Colleague" letter, and even the model bullying policy that is set forth on the Georgia Department of Education website. In the end, every child deserves the opportunity to learn in a school without fear of harm, or retaliation once the student reports the bullying. We are past the point of calling bullying actions "rites of passages," or "boys being boys," or "girls being girls." Bullying and cyber bullying is neither reasonable, normal, or if the local school districts are as serious as the state and federal departments of education are, inevitable. My office can also assist you when you need immediate help with cyber bullying.